The reading comprehension section of the LSAT is a 35-minute section of about 27 questions that test your reasoning ability, reading ability, and mental discipline. As with every section of the LSAT, there are ways to prepare to get the highest possible score which we will outline in this article. Our team also reviewed the best LSAT prep courses to help you fully prepare for the LSAT.
There are four sets of passages, with each set containing five to eight questions. Three of the four sets contain one passage, and the other set contains two related shorter passages.
The good news is that you can take a breath because the reading comprehension section is thought to be one of the easiest, if not the easiest section of the LSAT. It’s like an open book test, and even though it is timed, you’ll without a doubt have had the most experience with these types of questions.
LSAT Reading Comprehension Strategy
When you read about strategies in other LSAT sections you learn to save the hardest questions for last and to approach the questions with tact by racking up the easiest points at the beginning of the sections. The reading comprehension section is no different.
In fact, unless you’re aiming to score above a 165, you might be better off guessing toward the end, depending on the amount of time it takes you to get through the questions. You will most likely see passages about biological and physical sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities, and law.
Most students who skim the passages at the beginning save the science portion for the end. Others will start with the shortest passage in the section; choose whatever works best for you. Generally, the more interested you are in a subject, the easier the questions will be for you. Either way, a good benchmark is to be reading the passages in about three minutes. If you’re worried about identifying which passage to do first, don’t worry… it will come with practice.
A typical LSAT passage will:
- Discuss a two-sided issue
- Provide you with relevant content
- Offer an author opinion
But as you may now know, not everything in the LSAT is typical. Sometimes you’re going to see three-sided or one-sided issues and/or no author opinion, or a complex author opinion where they agree with both sides of an argument for whatever reason.
With this in mind, your goal is not to memorize the entire passage but, rather, the main points that the passage is trying to convey. You can do this by recognizing clues in the language with words such as:
- Thus, therefore, so
- Because, due to
- However, but, although, on the contrary, nevertheless, notwithstanding
In addition to recognizing these clues you’re also going to want to focus on the reasoning structure by asking yourself “why?” throughout the passage. It’s also a good idea to reassess between the paragraphs.
Each passage will have a thesis, and it’s important that you grasp this to have the best understanding of the article. The thesis will most likely arise in the first and second paragraphs, or the last paragraph. Next, you’re going to want to create something called a passage map. This is every assertion or argument relating to the main point. You can do this by writing brief notes on each paragraph. Here is an example:
It can sometimes be difficult to assess a passage as you’re reading, because the gist will often culminate at the end – like the way a movie resolves itself with everything coming together or making sense in one of the final scenes. So instead of rushing on to the first problem, give yourself a little time to digest the complex material you’ve just consumed.
These passages are written by professional test writers, usually from academic journals that are 10 to 20 pages long. By the time they’re done, the passage has been condensed into a few paragraphs for the test, which makes it denser than anything that you’re used to reading. A good rule of thumb is to focus on the purpose of each paragraph, rather than the content.
Types Of Questions
Below is a granular look at the different types of questions within the reading comprehension section of the LSAT.
INFERENCE: What do you know based off of what you just read?
OPINION: Who would believe what, and to what degree do they believe it?
STRENGTHEN: How would you support an argument being made within the argument?
PURPOSE: What’s the purpose of particular information within the passage?
APPLICATION: Taking some kind of generalized idea and applying it to a new situation.
MAIN POINT: What is the main point of the passage?
WEAKEN: Undermining a particular argument expressed within the course of a passage.
MEANING IN CONTEXT: Determine what a particular set of words means.
MOST SUPPORTED: Like inference questions, but with a lower degree of certainty.
ORGANIZATION: How each of the pieces fit together.
ANALOGY: Finding a similar situation within the passage.
Let’s take what you already know about taking, well, any test, and that is to start by deducting the wrong answers first. Most of the time when you do this in the reading comprehension section you will be able to narrow your answer down to two choices. In this case your best bet is to go back to the question and ask yourself what it is trying to ask. So your train of thought when answering these questions is not to find the right answer, but to look for the wrong answers, which deviate from your passage map.
While you’re reviewing, if you can notate why a question is wrong, it will help you better understand why the right answer is right, and give yourself more confidence as you transition into timed practice tests.
Common Mistakes To Avoid
Though the reading comprehension portion of the LSAT may seem straightforward, there are mistakes that a lot of test-takers tend to make.
Getting Caught Up In The Details
As mentioned above, there are certain words you should focus on and things you should annotate in each paragraph like main points, assertions, and counter-arguments. However, there are also words inserted in each passage that are meant to be fluff and can be skimmed over for time purposes. These are specific words that indicate more of the same, like furthermore and for example. Your goal is to not get lost in the details and try to decipher the main points of the argument.
Answering Questions From Memory
It is also a mistake to think you can answer questions from memory. If you’ve prepared your passage map correctly, use it. Another strategy you can use is to read all the questions first, before answering. That way you have the opportunity to answer questions that might jump out at you as something you already annotated. The test is often designed to place the harder questions first, so if you skip along and answer the simpler questions first, you will be going over what you already read, thus making yourself more proficient for the more difficult question(s) which you have saved for the end.
Assuming The Answer Is Correct Without Reading All Choices
Like we said earlier, you will often come down to two plausible answers. Remember to look at the question and don’t make the mistake of assuming an answer is correct without reading all the choices carefully. There is often one word that will separate the right answer from the wrong one.
With this information, you should be prepared to easily tackle the reading comprehension portion of the LSAT. While the LSAT as a whole can seem daunting, the reading comprehension section will likely be one of the easiest sections of the LSAT with proper preparation.
For more information on LSAT prep courses, our team has extensively researched the best LSAT prep courses to help you achieve your desired score.
Bryce Welker is an entrepreneur and owner of over 20 test prep websites dedicated to helping professionals earn certifications and pass their licensure exams. Bryce is a regular contributor to Forbes.com, Inc.com, and Business.com where he shares his knowledge to help others boost their careers.